This is the Written Thesis prepared by
in support of the Diploma Thesis.
The New School LawBook provides, in pertinent parts, as follows:Thesis . High school diplomas are awarded by The New School only after diploma candidates have successfully defended the following Thesis: “I am ready to assume full responsibility for myself in the community at large.”. . .
The Written Thesis
Once a Thesis Advisor has agreed to assist the student, the student
shall write a paper which will constitute part of the student’s
demonstration of the Thesis set out above.
The paper may be of any length and contain any material appropriate
or persuasive regarding the Thesis. . . .
Socrates, my friend, I am glad to see you!
And I to see you.
Where have you been today? I
have been looking everywhere for you!
I was in the Reading Room sleeping.
Why is it that you have been looking for me?
I have a difficult question to answer and I would ask your help.
Ah, I do not know what help I can be with difficult questions. What
exactly is your dilemma?
I want to be granted a diploma and it is required that I defend the
position that I am ready to take full responsibility for myself in the
community at large! I must
find out what this means if I am to succeed.
That sounds like a worthy goal.
How can I help you with this?
How can you help? Socrates,
you tease me. You know full
well you are much wiser than I.
That I certainly am not. I
am afraid I know nothing at all. How
then, could I be wiser than you? But
let us not pursue that, lest we should distract you from your purpose.
You have given me such a great compliment, though undeserved it may
be. Of course I will help in
any way that I can but do not be harsh with me, if matters become more
confused than they seemed at the beginning.
I do not know how matters are, Socrates. Should we find the difficulty to be some complex issue, I
would not begrudge you for revealing it to me.
Very good. Then I
shall try and outline the problem. What
we should endeavor to discover is: what
it means to take full responsibility for yourself in the community at
Yes, that is it Socrates.
Then let us start with responsibility.
I once heard a friend propose a definition of responsibility.
Tell me, what did your friend propose?
My friend said to me that being responsible for something was
causing it to happen in the way you want.
That sounds like an interesting idea, Socrates.
I have heard responsibility referred to as a duty.
I’m not sure this agrees with your friend’s idea.
Does that mean that responsibility is causing your duties to happen
in the way you want?
I do not think so, as the definition is only that something happens in the way that you want.
It does not seem to specify whether or not this thing originates
outside of you, as a duty does, or inside of you.
Why do you say that a duty originates outside of you?
Can not a duty be something that you impose on yourself?
Why would you say that, Eric?
Well, it seems that a person could marry and in so doing vow to
love their spouse. Then it
would be a duty that they take on, but a duty they take on willingly.
I think there is a distinction worth making between a man loving a
woman because it is his will and a man loving his wife because he is bound
by marriage to do so. I think
that duty is the latter. The
man is expected to do something, so he does it to fulfill this obligation.
So would the man loving his wife because it is his will be an
example of the internal motivation you alluded to?
Yes, I think that is what I was referring to.
I think that I have a better sense of your term duty, Socrates.
It seems to be a sort of owing-something.
That being so, if responsibility were a duty, it seems to be not an
activity, but a reaction to something.
Perhaps, but let me use some examples to see if we can better
understand this. For
instance, a man decides to free his slaves.
In another example, a different man is ordered by his ruler that
the slaves in his house be set free.
Is the first man as responsible in freeing his slaves as the second
man is? Or does the
responsibility of the men differ some how?
I would say that the first man is more responsible than the second
Why would you say that?
The first man caused the slaves to be free and he has decided that
this should be done. The
second man only reacts to his ruler’s will, not his own will.
He is not acting on his will to do something, but on
his will to have something not done to him.
We may not even consider the second man responsible because he did
not cause something to happen in the way he wanted, he avoided something
happening in the way he did not want.
That thing being disfavor or punishment from his ruler.
Aha! So the ruler was
being responsible because it was he who was causing a thing to happen in
the way he wanted!
(laughs) I am glad you are taking such pleasure in our discourse,
Eric, but I do not think School Meeting is over yet.
No doubt they would not appreciate our enthusiasm being heard while
they are thinking about other matters.
Err, I am sorry, Socrates. Sometimes
I let myself get carried away.
That is quite all right.
Well, in any case, what of the effects of this idea of
responsibility be said to be more often good, bad, or otherwise?
Be lenient with me dear Eric.
I have not wisdom, but I will speak what seems so to me and we must
judge it here in our discussion. I
will say responsibility tends to be good, though I am not sure that is
always the case.
Why would it not be?
Well, a man could be careful about stealing from his neighbor in
such a way that his neighbor didn't know he had done it. This might be called responsible under our definition, as it
is what the man says he wants, but we would not be likely to call that act
of responsibility “good” as its purpose was ill for his neighbor.
Then it seems there is something wrong with our idea of
Perhaps. Or perhaps a
man cannot want to steal from his neighbor.
Are you teasing me, Socrates?
I have known people who steal from whomever they please.
Yes, but how can we be confident that that is what they want to do?
Well, they say they want to do it.
But about that they can be wrong.
They can be wrong about what they want?
How can that be?
In a moment, I will show you my idea, but help me to do so.
Tell me Eric what seems to you a thing that would be good?
Just anything that is good?
Well, to be friends with people.
And do you have another example?
A hearty meal.
An interesting conversation.
And we agree these things are good?
I certainly do, Socrates, and do not see how you could not.
But what of others? Is
the man who has no friends the better for it?
Certainly not him, Socrates.
And the one who does not eat hearty meals?
Nor him either.
And what of he who does not engage in interesting conversation?
That can’t be good, Socrates.
Then we are agreed that these things are good for men?
We are definitely agreed.
Good. Now then, when a
man says he wants friends why do you think he wants them?
Well, because it makes him happy.
And the hearty meal?
To bolster his strength.
And the interesting conversation?
To enrich his mind and provoke his thoughts. Though there are many reasons for it.
But in all cases what he says he wants is something he thinks it
will be good for him to get?
And can you think of any time a man thinks he wants something that
he cannot see how it will be good for him to have?
I cannot Socrates.
Well, perhaps then a man is not usually said to be responsible
about stealing because stealing is not usually something he wants to do.
Yes, this also seems to give us some insight into the nature of
being responsible about things. If
men only want good things, whether they are aware of it or not, then it
can be said that being responsible is causing things to happen in a good
But can something that is not good happen in a good way?
That would not make much sense.
So would you then say that men can only be responsible about
something, if what they do serves what would be good for them?
I would say that Socrates, as we have said that men want what
is good for them. So if a man
said that he wanted something, but the thing he named would do him harm,
he is wrong about what he wants.
It is a strange thing we have proclaimed Eric and I fear that other
men will look down on us for saying this.
We will tell them our idea and they will point at us and laugh for
coming to such notions. We
must endeavor to see for ourselves whether or not this be true or whether,
in our enthusiasm, we have come to some error.
That sounds wise to me Socrates, as I do not desire to be mocked
for any foolishness.
Then let us continue. We
have here, to this point, said men only desire good things regardless of
their notions otherwise. That,
since this is so, responsibility must be causing things to happen in a
good way and if bad things do not happen in good ways then acts of
responsibility must be good.
That is what we have said. It
sounds very daring to me now that it is all laid out.
Let us continue and make sure our daring is not ill ventured.
Are there situations in which a man has done something that is bad
for him but he has still acted responsibly?
I cannot think of any Socrates.
What of Odysseus when he was trapped in the Cyclops’s cave?
You mean when he had to wait and let the Cyclops eat his men so
that he might trick the Cyclops into letting the rest escape?
That is what I mean. It
was certainly good that he and some of his men escaped, but before they
could, Odysseus had to wait to allow himself time to think of a plan.
If he had not -- if he had killed the Cyclops instead, to prevent
the monster from slaying anyone -- no one would have been able to move the
boulder in front of the cave and all would have perished.
Some of his men died, and we can certainly say it was not good for
Odysseus that this happened, but it would have been far worse to kill the
Cyclops and entomb them all.
That seems so to me, my friend.
It seems as if men can cause things to happen in the way they want,
as well as the way they don’t want, at the same time. I mean that a man may do something that is good, but that
also causes something to happen that is bad.
I think Odysseus acted responsibly though, making the best of his
Did he? Another
thought comes to me now. Is
responsibility limited to the scope of the situation at hand or does it
take into account the history of that situation?
The history of the situation?
Do you mean something like Odysseus being responsible in all events
leading up to his needing to escape the Cyclops’s cave?
That is what I mean. Should
we still say that clever Odysseus is a responsible man, if he goes into
the Cyclops’s cave and eats his meat and cheese and sits and waits for
the Cyclops to return? He
then had set up all the circumstances that required him to later make a
choice that held bad for him; for
it is obvious it would have been better had a different route been taken.
Odysseus certainly was not being responsible when he did those
things that got his men and him trapped in the cave, Socrates.
But saying that he was not responsible in getting his men out,
because he was not responsible in getting them in, is that not reaching
beyond the scope of what is being said?
Perhaps, but let us consider it.
It seems to me that it happened like this: Odysseus chose to investigate the island.
He chose to enter the Cyclops’s lair.
He chose to stay and to ask the Cylcops for aid.
If he had done something else in any of these situations, he would
not then have had to make the choice between entombing himself and his
crew or losing some men in order to escape.
I think I see what you mean Socrates; but wouldn’t we say that
his choices up until then were not responsible, but his choice at that
moment was? If the entire
course of someone’s life was taken into account when judging the
responsibility of that person, surely there is then no one we could call
responsible --. though, I
don’t know if it is fair to compare it to the entire course of his life;
more like the course of that day.
Hmm, perhaps this problem comes of you and I not meaning the same
thing by our terms. I am,
referring to a broader responsibility while you seem to talk of a more
You speak of a broader responsibility, Socrates.
What do you mean by this?
Well, suppose Odysseus was acting in the way he thought it best to
act in order to get what he thought would be beneficial to him.
His “responsibility” was in finding and doing things that are
good for him, not for finding and doing things that are good.
Do you see the distinction I draw?
I think that I do, Socrates. Do
you say then that this broader responsibility is causing things to happen
in a good way? And this other
kind, I shall call it “personal responsibility,” is causing good
things to happen for yourself?
I agree that responsibility is causing things to happen in a good
way. I do not think that
“personal responsibility” is right to call responsibility as we have
Why is that Socrates?
We have said that the good is what men want; we did not limit that
to good for oneself. Nor do I
think that a man who does good could do so in earnest and not want to do
good generally. For how could
a man earnestly pursue the good, but want it only for himself?
Assuming that is true, does that imply, if someone is serious about
seeking good, they seek it in all places, for the more they seek the more
good they will find?
It may be. I do not
Let us go back to what you said a moment ago, Socrates.
If people didn’t do good for themselves, why would people do
I say that a responsible man would do good for the sake of the
So not as the means to do some other thing, but a thing to do in
Yes and I do not see how it could be any other way.
Because, if responsible men want the good, but seek it for some
other purpose, they then do not really want the good, but the other thing
for which they acted. It
would not matter if this other purpose came about in a different way, just
that it came about. And what
they sought the “good” for must actually be the good, if they are
truly responsible men and know what they want.
Does that make any sense, Socrates?
I feel as if I have tied my tongue in knots.
You seem to say that , to be responsible, we must seek the good for
its own sake -- and not just our good, but the most good that can be had
in any situation. You had
much to make clear, but let it suffice to say that it made great sense to
me. Let us depart from these
thoughts for a while and talk about the qualities of the responsible man,
so that through the talking we might better grasp what it means to be
Very good, that sounds like a most sensible idea.
Have you any idea of what the responsible man’s qualities are,
I think I do.
How would you describe him?
Well, to start with, he would be aware.
And why do you say that is a quality of the responsible man?
If a man were not aware of what he wants he would not be able to
think of how to get it. Also,
he would have to be aware of what relates to what he wants, so that he
could see whether or not these related things are likely to interfere with
it, support it or neither.
So you say then that thoughtfulness is a quality of the responsible
man as well?
Of course, Socrates if
you were not aware of yourself or anything else, you would not know how to
direct your actions. If you
did not think about anything, you would stumble quite frequently into
things you certainly DO NOT want and thus be irresponsible.
You speak so passionately and with such conviction, Eric, that I
hesitate to question you and throw into light my obvious ignorance.
I apologize, for I am a lover of truth and I simply must question
you to make sure I understand.
Ah, forgive me, Socrates, sometimes I speak very confidently about
things I am not sure I know. I
have no answers, but I will see how my notions hold up under your
I did not intend to mock. However,
let us see how your notions are. What do you mean by “think?”
Eh, that is a hard thing to describe, Socrates, let me try.
I suppose that I meant it in the sense of piecing things together
and predicting their effects.
And this prediction, on what is it based?
Well, it is based on how one pieces things together, as I said.
That includes how one understands other things to function and how
one has seen things functioning before.
For example, imagine that I am a child of three:
I see a bird fly through the air above me.
I wonder how it accomplishes this and think perhaps it is like the
spinning toy above my cradle and is held up by a string.
I see no string, so I move on and think perhaps it has been thrown
as I throw a ball. I see it
land and take off again, with no thrower, so I move on and think perhaps
it can jump much higher than I can. I may continue this a long time, until I am satisfied with an
answer I judge to be true. Perhaps
I would not continue so long
a time, if I were a child of
three, but then again, I do not recall that year very well.
I am getting a better idea of what you mean. So you say thinking is connecting things through how you
observe and imagine them to work together?
That is one kind of thought, at least, Socrates.
It is the kind I think I was referring to.
Let me move back to your initial statement and ask a question
there. How can a man know how
to direct his actions?
I would think, besides being aware and thoughtful, that a person
would know how to direct his actions by being disciplined, being honest,
and being brave. Those seem
like necessary qualities if one is to know how to direct one’s own
But how can a man know how to direct his actions through those
Discipline will allow the man to continue on in spite of things he
would find unpleasant. Bravery
will overcome things that are unknown, that discipline might not overcome.
Honesty, with himself, will serve to help examination of things.
If a man lies to himself, he has no way of addressing what he is
having trouble with.
But you still do not tell me why you would know how to direct your actions because of these things?
Ah, that is true, Socrates. Again,
I have not spoken precisely, I am afraid.
I do not have any reason to think that one would know
how to act from this, only that one would get a reasonable idea how to
act. Knowing what to do
and being reasonably confident of what to do are clearly different things.
Then we are in the same boat, as it has become common to say.
I do not seem to know anything and I do not know how to gain
knowledge either. However,
this points to a certain idea of how to be responsible, if we think that
we are not simply two who are completely ignorant.
It seems that you must be precise in speech.
For, if you are not precise in speech, you will not understand what
you are talking about.
Being precise seems very similar to being honest, though they might
have a subtle difference.
What is the difference?
Well, it seems like I described honesty as a quality of a
responsible person to say that one must not lie to himself, but must
endeavor to tell himself the truth instead.
Otherwise, one would have no sense of the actual state of things
and thus nothing on which to base thoughts about what should
be. As well, precision is
there to make sure that one does not fool himself into thinking something
is true that only makes sense by a trick of words.
If one were to do this, his thinking would be based on falsehood
and he could not use it to discover what is good.
Nor would he be able to understand things very well, which may be
good in itself.
They do seem very similar, perhaps even the same thing in different
words. I am not sure I
understand what you mean by “lying to himself.”
How could someone do this?
I am not sure what I mean either.
However, it is clear to me that sometimes people lie to themselves
about things. Why is not always clear; a lot of the time it seems it is because
they dislike having to deal with the situation. For instance, I am writing a paper to defend my thesis this
year and I continually procrastinate and tell myself that I will have
enough time to finish it before my set deadline, which is certainly not
What is the paper about?
I’ll tell you later.
As you wish. So, you
say then that a man can be aware that something is a lie but still act as
if they believe it, even if only to themselves, to avoid the action they
would have to take if they accepted it as a lie?
Yes, that is exactly what I mean to say.
Ah, now I have a new thought about what you said; help me see
whether I understand it well. If
honesty describes guarding against things you would lie to yourself about,
precision is the process used to guard against lies of which you are aware and lies of which you are
Excellently said, Socrates. I
think that is the sense that can be drawn from what I said, even if I saw
no sense in my saying to begin with.
There appears to have been sense.
I find that sometimes the meanings of our own words are not
apparent, until we ponder them more.
However, let me now continue talking of the qualities of the
responsible man, since, through your speaking, an image in my mind has now
formed of another of this man’s qualities.
I am listening, Socrates, please go on.
The responsible man must, underlying all else, be a lover of truth.
If there were no love of truth, he would not care about whether or
not it is true that he wants what he says he wants;
or, if it is true, when it seems that he is brave;
or, if is true, when he thinks he is aware.
He would be satisfied to sit in his ignorance, as if that were as
far as he believed he could go -- or perhaps only as far as he desires to
I agree with you completely, Socrates.
It seems so obvious to me that love of truth is necessary, that I
feel like I can provide little challenge to test this idea, for my view is
no different from your own.
If we are crazy, Eric, and love of truth is unnecessary, then we
could feel no regret in it.
Why is that, Socrates?
Well, if love of truth is not needed to be responsible, then it
does not matter if we are wrong, does it?
(laughs) I see what you mean.
If responsibility is a good thing but truth is not needed for
good.... Well, that would
simply not make much sense.
It does recall to mind another quality of responsible people
What is that?
Responsible people seem also to be optimistic.
What is optimism?
I would say that optimism is having a choice whether or not to
think of things as good or bad but supposing they are good.
Does being optimistic then entail a certain disregard for truth?
I do not think so, Socrates. It
seems like, ideally, optimism comes into play when one does not know
whether something will be bad or whether it will be good; it is in this case of uncertainty that optimism leads one to
assume a good outcome. If one
has sufficient reason to judge the thing to be bad, one would not then let
optimism blind him to this, but keeping his attitude well in line with
being able to do things seems more conducive to accomplishing
what one wants to do.
So we could say then that the pessimistic man is not a responsible
man. When he sees what is
good, he does not follow through in doing what is good.
He says that it is “unlikely” or “probably going to turn out
bad anyway” and thus hinders his own ability to do what he wants.
That seems to follow well, Socrates.
The optimistic person takes ‘chances’ in doing his responsible
acts. Chance taking also
seems to be a necessary part of some of the other qualities we have named,
of bravery, for instance.
We have spoken at length on responsibility, Eric, and the hour is
drawing late. I am afraid the
Closer will ask us to leave, before we have talked about the entire
What have we not mentioned?
The context of responsibility; “in the community at large.”
us go up to the Corner Room and talk of that.
Closers usually check there last.
(Eric and Socrates adjourn to the Corner Room and
continue their discussion)
I think we were about to speak about what “in the community at
large” could mean?
Yes, that is it, Eric.
It seems like “in the community at large” is straightforward,
Socrates, so I haven’t really questioned it much as of yet.
Oh? Why do you say so?
I don’t know exactly what is meant by community but it seems to
be a gathering of people of one kind or another. “At large” seems to imply that the gathering of people
will be mobile or unrestrained. So
it might be just used to describe taking full responsibility for yourself
around people generally.
What makes you think the community is a human community?
I just assumed. I
guess the scope of what a person wants appears to extend into realms
beyond humans, at least
physically. For instance,
when a person would go into the woods to admire the forest.
That seems good for the person.
Is the forest part of the community at large?
Its part of a group of trees.
They seem to be a gathering of something (if that’s what a
community is) that is “at large” in the sense that it is out there in
So you say then that the thesis means taking full responsibility
for yourself in different groups?
Perhaps that. You
might even say that life itself is a sort of gathering; though I don’t
know what an alternative to “gathered” would look like then.
That might be too expansive a view of gathering, but what would the
meaning then be, if that were true? That
you are ready to take full responsibility for yourself in
That sounds like a good thing to do, though I don’t know if
that’s the meaning of the thesis.
It may be that being ready to take responsibility for yourself in
life would also imply that you would be ready to take responsibility for
yourself in a group, as there are many groups in life.
I think you would then have to say, Socrates, that taking
responsibility for yourself, involves interacting with groups. It seems that a person could avoid groups in their life by
retiring to a mountain top. I’m
not sure. From what we have
reasoned, we could say that being responsible in life is also being
responsible in groups.
You are right, Eric. Certainly
some argument would have to be made as to why it is good for a man to be
with others. But perhaps we
have focused too greatly on life being a community, as it states in the
thesis that you must be ready to be responsible in the community at large. This seems to already tell us that you must be responsible
I still do not have a clear idea of what the community at large
means though. I suppose that
I have tried to understand it as the contexts that a person needs to be
responsible in. As you said,
this may be too expansive, but it was my first idea of how the thesis
would make sense.
Ah, I think I hear someone approaching.
I do also; let us speak quickly of what our thoughts are currently
lest we walk away from this conversation too abruptly to be satisfied!
I will offer some summary of what we have said then:
we have said that being responsible means causing things to happen
in the way that you want; also that men only want good things, whether
they are aware of it or not, and, since this is so, ‘the way that you
want’ is the way that is good; that responsible things are then also
good things; that qualities helpful and perhaps necessary for
responsibility are thoughtfulness, awareness, honesty, courage,
discipline, precision, love of truth, and optimism; and that the community
at large seems to mean gatherings in all places or in one’s life.
So, the gist of “ready to take full
responsibility for yourself in the community at large,” may be
“doing what is good in life?”
It might mean that, though we have not even begun to explore what
‘full’ could mean as it states in the thesis that you be “ready
to assume full responsibility
for yourself in the community at large.”
Neither am I sure how one’s self
relates to the good.
Time to go, boys, it’s 5:15.
To take full responsibility for myself now, hmm...
Melanie is giving me a ride home tonight, and I don’t want to
freeze to death walking home in the cold, so I suppose I should leave.
But does that cause good
or only avoid something bad?
Just avoidance of bad, I think.
To serve what is good, I should probably schedule lunch with you,
so we can continue our talk.
I’m leaving, after all the doors are locked, and if you two
aren’t out of here by then, you can find another ride.
This seems to involve my
responsibility also. How is
12 at Suburban tomorrow?
That sounds excellent, Socrates.
I will see you then.